Jason Mariner projected Republican winner of Florida's 20th Congressional District; Democratic race too close to call

Dale Holness, Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick in tight race
Dale Holness, Jason Mariner and Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick
Posted at 6:49 PM, Nov 02, 2021

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — One half of the race to determine Florida's newest member of Congress remains undecided.

Jason Mariner is the projected winner of the Republican primary in Tuesday's special election for Florida's 20th Congressional District, but the Democratic race between top vote-getters Dale Holness and Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick was too close to call.

The candidates are vying to fill the congressional seat left vacant since the death of U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla.

Hastings, who served in the House since 1993, died of pancreatic cancer in April.

Mariner defeated Greg Musselwhite, who unsuccessfully challenged the late congressman in the 2020 general election.

"This is an endeavor of immense undertaking," Mariner told WPTV's Michael Williams.

Mariner said his No. 1 goal is to "bring prosperity back to District 20."

A former drug addict and convict, Mariner regained his right to vote, co-founded a recovery center and went on to become the CEO of a company called AdSkinz.

"Those are true statements," Mariner said. "I was a drug addict. I was a convict and, you know, I look around at District 20, District 20 needs a second chance. America needs a second chance. I got mine, and I want to give District 20 a second chance."

WATCH: Jason Mariner: 'I want to give District 20 a second chance'

Jason Mariner: 'I want to give District 20 a second chance'

But Mariner remains a longshot to win the Jan. 11 general election in the heavily Democratic district.

Less than 100 votes separated Holness and Cherfilus-McCormick by late Tuesday.

Holness is a Broward County commissioner and former mayor who was once endorsed by Hastings.

Cherfilus-McCormick is the CEO of Trinity Health Care Services and a political novice who has never held an elected position.

As of 11 p.m., Cherfilus-McCormick held a 31-vote lead over Holness, who leads in Broward County, but Cherfilus-McCormick was leading in Palm Beach County.

Cherfilus-McCormick's platform included her proposed People's Prosperity Plan, which would provide permanent $1,000 economic recovery checks for anyone 18 or older who makes less than $75,000 annually.

Florida's 20th Congressional District has about 345,000 eligible voters. The district is also more than 61% Democratic and about 13% Republican. Five Democrat candidates are current elected officials.

RELATED: What you need to know about Florida's 20th Congressional District

Candidates also included one Libertarian and three independents, one of whom was a write-in.

Alcee Hastings in December 2019
U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., speaks during a House Rules Committee hearing on the impeachment against President Donald Trump, Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

During an Oct. 14 candidate forum hosted by the Urban Leagues of Broward and Palm Beach counties, the candidates focused on issues that deeply impact the 20th Congressional District and the nation, including structural racism, racism in immigration, black and brown home ownership, education, employment, social justice, health initiatives and how to entice business to the Glades, which would lead to jobs.

The two-hour forum ended with moderators telling voters they had a lot of research to do.

WPTV caught up with voters at the Wells Recreation Center in Riviera Beach about what matters most.

WATCH: Voters cast ballots in special election

Voters cast ballots in special election to determine Florida's 20th Congressional District

"Affordable housing is surely an important issue that we're facing in this district," Varisa Lall Dass, a voter and resident of the district, told WPTV. "We're watching a lot of new development and potential new opportunities that come with that, but it's important that people have access to a place to live."

But other voters offer advice to no matter who is chosen.

"I tell younger people that, if you're going to run for office — whether it's Democrat or Republican — whatever, just go to bed every night knowing you have done the right thing," the Rev. Thomas Masters, the former mayor of Riviera Beach, said. "When you can go to bed knowing that you have done the right thing, then you can wake up in the morning with a clearer conscience. Do what's right. Period."

WPTV DMA Congressional District Map